Saturday, September 13, 2008

Next Phase: Welcome to Active Duty

On 05 September 2008, I returned to Active Duty for the first time since the summer of 2005. My reason for being on Active Duty last time was the same as this time, involuntary call to active duty to fight in the Global War on Terror. Active Duty is a whole different ball game than from being a drilling Reservist.

You've heard the term "weekend warrior", or maybe the slogan, "one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer?" Unless you are attending a military school, as a Reservist you are paid only for the weekend drills you attend. In other words, you are paid for days, not a full months salary at the rank you hold. For most Reservists, that extra pay goes to a car payment, or rent, or some other financial responsibility. Most often, its anywhere from $200 to $700 based on rank and there are no extra frills to the pay.

On Active Duty all of that changes. Obviously I get a full months pay as a Major. Then come the entitlements. I get a housing allowance. I get a substinance allowance. I get paid for being separated from my family. In the months to come I will get hazardous duty pay, combat pay, and tax zone exclusion which means that all of my monthly pay is "tax free". This is the same for all Soldiers.

Another big difference is that on Active Duty, UCMJ (the Uniform Code of Military Justice), the laws which govern the military are in effect. This means that someone who is punished under UCMJ could lose a portion of the their pay, be given extra duty like filling sand bags, or even receive a reduction in rank. And that is just for mild to medium offenses. For more serious and extreme violations of the UCMJ, time in the stockade, hard labor, and the death penalty could apply.

Every deployment has some minor violations of the UCMJ. Sleeping on duty, violation of a direct order, being without your weapon, are all some examples. This is a world of difference for everyone but more so for the most junior of Soldiers who are more prone to lapses in good judgement. I, as the commander, ends up being the one who has to take these punitive actions and in most cases, determine the punishment.

This phase has been more challenging for me personally. I have not had a chance to spend quality time with my Soldiers in three days. As a commander I am quickly learning that my role is more administrative in nature. Although I feel like I should be with my troops and training with them, the reality is that I need to attend briefings, make slides, and go to different offices to "make things happen." In fact, this running around in a higher than usual level of frustration is my training.

The other difference is the fact that at the end of this phase we will depart the United States for our tour.
The other day the seventh anniversary of September 11th passed. Other than the flag being at half staff and a free concert on the post, the day was unremarkable because we were all working or training. On September 10, 2001, if someone had told me that in the next eight years that I would have two involuntary calls to Active Duty I could not have imagined it unless the North Koreans had crossed the DMZ.
Wow, was I wrong.

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